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Tuesday, December 8, 1998 Published at 20:06 GMT


Death-threat vivisector calls for industry support

Prof Blakemore: Sick of being the "whipping boy"

An Oxford professor who is being targeted by animal rights activists has urged medical organisations which support animal experimentation publicly to back him.

Prof Blakemore: "It's hard to see what more a Royal Commission into animal experimentation could achieve"
Prof Colin Blakemore, one of Britain's most high-profile advocates of medical experiments on animals, says he is sick of being the "whipping boy" behind which others hide.

He and his family have lived in fear of their lives since his first death sentence was issued by animal rights protestors 12 years ago.

Earlier this month Mr Blakemore was thrust into the media spotlight again, after his name appeared on a top-10 murder hit list drawn up by the Animal Rights Militia.

The group has threatened to kill 10 "vivisectors" if the militant animal rights activist Barry Horne dies from his hunger strike.

Mr Horne, who is in prison serving an 18-year sentence for arson, is blind in one eye and has lost nearly half his body weight after more than 60 days without food. He is calling for a Royal Commission to look into animal experimentation.

[ image: Barry Horne: On hunger strike]
Barry Horne: On hunger strike
Mr Blakemore says he is "very, very disappointed" with charities such as the Imperial Cancer Research Fund and organisations such as the Medical Research Council, which back experiments on animals for medical purposes.

"How come organisations that represent medical research are not out there talking to the public," said Mr Blakemore. "They are all frightened".

"It is only those who stick their necks out who get the death threats."

He says there is an "innate conservatism" in many such groups, coupled with "inexperience of talking to the media and, of course, just fear".

Mr Blakemore has suffered numerous attacks over the past 12 years. Missiles have been thrown through the windows of his family home and he has received two letter bombs in 12 years, one of which was opened by his children and "definitely lethal - it contained half a pound of explosives wrapped with needles".

Prof Blakemore: "If you are willing to talk about this issue publically, they will kill you"
He fears that the terror tactics will quash debate and senses that the government may already be softening its stance in favour of animal rights protestors.

"We have to take terrorism out of the debate. One day we may wake up to find these rights are gone."

But Dr Mark Matfield, who is also named on the murder list because of his work for the Research Defence Society, has defended charities and other research groups.

"The RDS is here to represent the medical community on this issue. This is our job to speak out," he said.

Groups are 'doing their bit'

"In a way I share Colin's views but these organisations have been doing their bit in a number of ways and at a time like this they turn to us."

The Medical Research Council, with believes some animal experiments are essential, defended itself against Mr Blakemore's comments.

"It is part of our general ongoing policy of public understanding of science to communicate the need for using animals in medical research," said the MRC in a statement to BBC News Online.

United stand

"This has been a consistent message in our publications and media briefings for the past six years."

A spokeswoman for another of Mr Blakemore's targets, the Imperial Cancer Research Fund, said it had done interviews, including one two weeks ago, "when we are specially named as carrying out animal experimentation".

"We are members of the Association of Medical Research and The Research Defence Society. Having a united position gives our views more credibility and makes it stronger."

A spokeswoman for the British Medical Association, another exponent of animal experimentation, said it had not been high profile on the subject because "we are not primarily a researcher".

"None of our members have suggested we should change our policy on this."

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